Charles Dickens was born in Landsport, a small town near the sea, in a
middle-class family. In 1814 the family moved to London. His father was
a clerk in a navy office; he got a small salary there and usually spent
more than he earned. As a result of this he was thrown into the debtors'
prison when Charles was only ten. At that age the boy went to work at a
factory which was like a dark, damp cellar. There he stuck labels on
bottles of shoeblacking all day long, for a few pennies.
Later he went to school which he attended for only three years and at
the age of 15 he started his work in a lawyer's office. He continued to
educate himself, mainly by reading books. At 18 he became a reporter in
Parliament. There he got acquainted with politics and never had a high
opinion of his country's policy afterwards.
In 1833 he began to write his first short stories about London life. In
1836 those stories were published as a book, under the title of Sketches
by Boz; Boz was the penname with which he signed his first work.
In 1837 Dickens became well-known to the English readers. His first big
work appeared, written in instalments for a magazine at first, and later
published in book form. It was The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick
Club. From then on Dickens was one of the best known and loved writers
of his day.
In 1842 he made his first trip to America. He said that he wanted to see
for himself what "real" democracy was like. He was rather disappointed
with it. He wrote about his trip and his impressions in his American
Dickens travelled a lot. He visited France and Italy and later went to
America again. At the same time he continued to write. In 1858 he began
to tour England, reading passages from his works to the public. These
readings were a great success, for Dickens was a wonderful actor, but
the hard work and travelling were bad for his health. On March 15, 1870,
he made his last reading and said to the public "From these garish
lights I vanish now for evermore". He suffered a stroke on June, 8, and
died the following day at his writing desk penning a sentence for Edwin
Drude. The novel was left unfinished.
Dickens literary heritage is of world importance. He developed the
English social novel, writing about the most burning social problems of
his time. He created a wide gallery of pictures of bourgeois society and
its representative types which still exist in England; he wrote of the
workhouses of England and the tragedy of the children who lived in them
(Oliver Twist); he wrote about the problem of education and showed how
it handicapped children (Nicholas Nickleby).
After his trip to America Dickens wrote Martin Chuzzlewit. A part of
this work had an American setting. He criticized American customs and
democracy very severely. Later Dickens wrote about money and its
terrible, destructive power over men (Dombey and Son). David
Copperfield, one of the most lyrical of his works, was to some extent
autobiographical; it reflected a young man's life in bourgeois society.
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